Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
December, 2009
Regional Report

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Possumhaw holly steals the landscape show in winter with colorful berries that attract birds and are also great for holiday arrangements.

Holiday Decorations from Landscape Berries and Foliage

The holiday season means berry-laden branches from our landscape will find their way indoors for use in decorations. In addition to berrying ornamentals we have many foliage plants in our southern landscapes that offer beauty for our holiday decorations.

Pyracantha, American beautyberry, yaupon, possumhaw, and numerous other hollies make create plants for indoor arrangements. Keep in mind that yaupon berries are attractive but poisonous. Yaupon's scientific name, Ilex vomitoria, should give us a clue as to their danger. Better to leave them out if young children are around the house.

The possumhaws are starting to show their orange and red berries as the leaves drop to expose the beautiful fruits. A tall can full of berried branches outside by the front door is a nice addition to the traditional wreath on the door.

Pyracantha berries are also showing great color. They will remain beautiful through the winter. I especially like the ones I see around town that have been trained to espalier designs on the walls of homes. I prefer to keep a safe distance from the task of pruning them to these elaborate designs. Not only is the task a bit of a chore, but one stick with a pyracantha's sharp thorns and you will fully understand their other name, "firethorn!"

Use pyracantha stems as a weeping feature in a large vase or spread them around the base of large candles or down a table runner where their foliage and red berries will really steal the show.

As you are trimming berrying branches, note where the berries are produced. In most cases this is on last season's growth. This is a lesson in pruning as heavy trimming of such shrubs results in fewer berries next year.

Here in the South some trees are still putting on their fall color show, oblivious to the calendar date. Their colorful leaves make great decorations scattered along the midsection of a tablecloth. While out collecting leaves, I also cut a few of the unusual "winged" branches produced by sweetgums and some elms. They work great as the foundational elements in a decoration for a table centerpiece arrangement.

Evergreens provide plenty of foliage filler for indoor decorating. Needled evergreens are a traditional part of holiday wreaths, swags, and table decorations. Broad-leaved evergreens are also a good choice. Branches from southern wax myrtle, southern magnolia, bay, red tipped photinia, nandina, cherry laurel, mahonia, loquat, Japanese aucuba, and other regional favorites hold up quite well in a vase or wet floral ("Oasis") foam arrangement. They'll even do well without water for a day or two, and sometimes even longer.

This year experiment with some other landscape plants for decorations. Depending on what part of the Lower South you live in some plants to try include rosemary, agarito, Florida anise, deodora cedar, red cedar, Ashe juniper , banana shrub, sweet bay, Texas mountain laurel, dusty miller, asparagus fern, various ivies, and gardenia.

Don't forget the ornamental grasses either. Their plumes are attractive au natural, but may also be sprayed to provide accents of color in an indoor arrangement. Leafless grapevines make a nice touch too!

Much is written about selecting plants to attract butterflies and birds, or to provide landscape beauty. This year plan on including a few plants in the landscape for the specific purpose of using their foliage, berries, and plumes to decorate inside your home.

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